Most Parents Are Giving Their Babies Solid Foods Way Too Soon, Says New Study


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Many parents struggle with knowing exactly when to introduce solid foods to their babies. There are plenty of guidelines out there that suggest introducing them when your baby shows signs of "readiness," but that nonspecific time frame can cause plenty of confusion -- so much so, a recent study shows most parents are giving their babies solids long before they're actually ready for them, and it could have negative consequences.

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The study, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, reports that more than half of babies in the US are introduced to "complementary foods" -- meaning any food other than breast milk and/or formula -- much earlier than they should be. 

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The study -- which consisted of 1,482 babies aged 6 to 36 months -- was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists analyzed six years of data that had been collected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey asked parents how old their infants were when they were first fed complementary foods. Ultimately, researchers discovered that only 32.6 percent of babies were introduced to complementary foods at the recommended time. 

While the American Academy of Pediatrics says children should be introduced to solid foods at around 6 months, 16.3 percent of babies were introduced before 4 months and 38.3 percent were introduced at around 4 to 5 months. Additionally, researchers found that babies who hadn't been breastfed were more likely to be introduced to complementary foods earlier than those who had. 

But scientists found that many babies who are introduced to solids too early could face health issues. "Introducing babies to complementary foods too early can cause them to miss out on important nutrients that come from breast milk and infant formula," lead investigator Chloe M. Barrera, MPH, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity, said in a statement, according to ScienceDaily. "Conversely, introducing them to complementary foods too late has been associated with micronutrient deficiencies, allergies, and poorer diets later in life."

ScienceDaily reported that recommendations for when to introduce babies to solids have changed dramatically over the past 60 years. In 1958, doctors and scientists recommended introducing them at only 3 months. In the 1970s, this was pushed back to 4 months. It wasn't until the 1990s that the still-standing 6-month recommendation was pushed.

These relatively frequent changes are believed to be the reason many parents don't adhere to the current 6-month recommendation, instead choosing to make the decision on their baby's perceived preparedness without consulting others first.

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Barra says this study was conducted to gain a better understanding of the state of infant feeding practices in the US as a base for coming up with better ways to inform parents. "Efforts to support caregivers, families, and healthcare providers may be needed to ensure that US children are achieving recommendations on the timing of food introduction," she said. "Inclusion of children under two in the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans may promote consistent messaging of when children should be introduced to complementary foods."

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